Synchromesh Wines, Part I: Powered by Rieslings (and Merlot)

4 05 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Social distancing. Self-isolation. Working from home. Stress baking. Flattening the curve. It is all a bit much, but just maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or at least a faint wink, luring us towards a world that won’t be completely the same ever again. Keep up the great work, (most) folks. Aren’t you glad that there is still ample wine to drink, and to read about? We here at Pop & Pour were particularly thrilled to spend part of our quarantined home-stay getting acquainted with the latest vintage of Synchromesh Wines, Canada’s Riesling overlords, a homegrown brand forging an unmistakable vinous identity.

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Please excuse the floor… Cats live here, and it is not like tons of people are coming over to visit.

Alan and Amy Dickinson certainly had their research cut out for them when they set out in 2009 to find vineyard sites in BC that might yield top-shelf Riesling. This grape is one that will translate any nuances of terroir right into the glass, which is exactly what the Dickinsons wish to foster: minimalist winemaking that lets the land speak for itself. After almost of a year of searching, they acquired 5 acres of high-elevation south-facing vineyard that would serve as the nucleus of Synchromesh’s estate plot Storm Haven, which would later blossom to 107 acres when a neighbouring property was acquired in 2017. Although such an expansion may conjure up concerns of dilution of all that makes a specific parcel unique, au contraire. For one, the Dickinsons don’t play around with mediocre sites. Furthermore, a larger vineyard provides an opportunity to explore geological and climatic aspects of the site that in effect provide a larger palette from which to paint. Pinot Noir was added at Storm Haven, and the Dickinsons ultimately extended their stewardship to other vineyard locations in Naramata, a never-ending quest for further pure site expressions. All of their farming is organic, with no synthetic inputs, and all wines are fermented spontaneously, with a hard turn away from any factor that could blur the expression of each specific vineyard. Stay tuned for later in-depth coverage of Synchromesh’s home base; in this post I will focus on two special non-estate sites for Riesling, as well as another renowned plot for… Merlot?? Yes. Read on. Read the rest of this entry »





Volcanic Hills I: Molten Whites

9 10 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

It’s days like today when I truly value my connection with wine, fermented grape juice yet so very much more. You know, the sort of day where everything hits the skids, and wine is there at the end of it to provide an affirmation of the pleasurable things, to stimulate intellectual curiosity, and to infuse existence with a certain beauty that works to counterbalance any ugliness that cannot help but seep in around the edges of even the best-curated life. White wine is where it all started for me. At its best it is sharp and crystalline yet hedonistically fruity, linear yet complex, tart yet comforting. My first wine that I actually cared to attend to – you know, I am drinking wine and I’m actually going to notice that it’s wine! – was a Canadian Gewürztraminer. I won’t say which one. It was delicious back at that juncture, but at this point leaves me wanting on those rare occasions when I loop back to it. Nevertheless, I still seek out all things Gewürztraminer in this country, and am rewarded every so often with beacons of surprising revelation. It just so happens that the Volcanic Hills Estate Winery has made something of a specialty of this perfumed grape, offering an entry-level multi-vineyard blend, a single vineyard offering, a late harvest dessert wine, and even a sparkling Gewürz. They also offer two takes on Viognier, another notoriously perfumed fruit bomb currently making a name for itself in the Okanagan. I may be just the Canadian wine writer to guide our loyal readers through this particular romp.

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The Volcanic Hills Estate Winery is operated by Sarwan Gidda and his son Bobby, and is now into its 11th year of operations. Sarwan, born in India, founded the Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery in 2000 with his two brothers. According to Noel Gallagher, “Everyone knows that if you’ve got a brother, you’re going to fight.” Sure enough, Sarwan departed the partnership to start Volnanic Hills in 2008, with Bobby designing the layout of the geothermally heated and cooled winery. The winery itself is situated on the southeastern slope of Mt. Boucherie, which most agree is a 60 million year-old dormant volcano. The Okanagan’s Mt. Etna? I’m not sure, but according to the Giddas, the 70 or so acres of estate vineyards benefit from this rich volcanic heritage. Many swear that you can taste such soils in the finished wines. My own experience with certain Old World whites does corroborate this, even if the mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. The Giddas trust winemaker Daniel Bontorin, who trained locally in the Okanagan, to create complex yet affordable wines from estate grown grapes as well as the produce of various contract growers. Let’s check in on the whites. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: The Whites of Castoro de Oro

31 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These wines were provided as samples for review purposes.]

It’s alive. The blog, that is. Peter is enjoying some much needed R & R overseas and got to sample hybrid grape Solaris for the first time. Don’t get too jealous of that particular detail. Although I’d welcome a chance to add this one to my life list, apparently we aren’t missing out on all that much. Meanwhile, let yours truly guide you through another Pop & Pour Okanagan run that will span two posts and six wines. I’ve enjoyed tasting these, particularly as I reflect on how this family owned winery has seamlessly melded careful viticulture, whimsical yet clever branding, and an earnest appeal to passion and hard work. All this yields a singular focus on making award-winning handcrafted wines from grape to glass. It seems warranted to begin with the whites. But first, some further background.

IMG_E0849The Castoro de Oro estate vineyard was planted in 1980. Located in the esteemed Golden Mile, this site seems engineered by Mother Nature to deliver full ripeness in the grapes, yet not at the expense of acidity. Here we have vines facing southeast to provide ample sunshine, with the grapes also growing on a slope right next to a lake, factors that together work to mitigate any effects of frost. This is all well and good, but too much heat can cause flabby wines that lack precision. Fortunately, a mountain provides evening shade that permits the grapes to cool off during the summer, preserving tartness and resulting in a key balance between acid and ripe fruit flavours. This is particularly important for white wines, for which acidity is the only source of freshness and structure (well… for the most part. Tannins from wine skins and barrels sometimes play a small role).

Enter Bruno Kelle and (Calgarian) Stella Schmidt, self-described “partners in life and wine-making”. They acquired this site and launched the Castoro de Oro winery in 2006, farmers who like to make wines that most people can afford. I can jive with that, although I can find it hard to relinquish the role of “guy who is supposed to assess these wines in a serious way according to certain criteria”. I’m going to wear that black hat here, because to some extent I have to… AND, I’m also going to attempt to appreciate these wines based on the winemakers’ own vision. Here we go. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 16

16 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I love rare birds. I’ve been a birdwatcher since about the age of 10, one of those “twitcher” types that needs to keep a life list of every bird I’ve seen. Of course, a particular brand of nerd status and glory is affixed to the rarities. There is something deeper at work as well here, at least for me. I was a psychology resident in Vancouver in 2008, and frankly it was one of the worst years of my life. Everything seemed like it was falling apart. One way I coped was by spending most Fridays at a beach close to UBC campus, sneaking out there almost every week (rain or shine) when I was supposed to be working on a research paper. If my supervisor knew (and she probably did), she had the forbearance to turn a blind eye. One day I was hiking down the wooden steps as a band-tailed pigeon exploded past my head. Not even that much of a rarity, but it was a first for the life list, and it felt like at least one tiny win that I majorly needed. I’m a pretty good archivist and a half-decent birder. Well, I do the same thing with wine grapes. I keep a life list. Birds are beautiful but wine smells better and you can drink it. Although I’ve had dry Rotgipfler before, from this very same producer, unwrapping this distinctly-shaped bottle still made me feel some of what I felt when I saw that damn pigeon (despite the fact that my life is a whole lot better now). What a pleasant surprise. And of course, my Pop & Pour Advent Austria streak remains alive. Zum Wohl!

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Look at how long this sucker is… Great field mark for an Auslese split.

Rotgipfler (and what a name…) makes full-bodied spicy white wines in Austria’s Thermenregion, a true local specialty. The grape is a half-sibling of my beloved Gruner Veltliner. The name refers to the red colour of the vine’s shoot tips (“rot” = “red” in Austrian). The aroma is typically compared to peaches or apricots. As far as white grapes go, this one is a bit of a tank. Known for great concentration and a heavy, unctuous body, Rotgipfler is often paired with Zierfandler, another Thermenregion specialty that adds needed acidity and minerality to the blend. I enjoyed Reinisch’s entry level Rotgipfler with an importer buddy of mine and although the wine had seen no oak, it somehow featured a pungent smoky  nose and was bursting at the seams with banana peel, peach, mango, and gooseberry notes. Huge concentration indeed but elegant at the same time. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 8

8 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I am on a Chardonnay kick of late. Admittedly, though, California Chardonnay has not been on the docket much. If it were, Carneros would perhaps be one logical starting point for a guy who enjoys delicate renditions. This AVA spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, is moderately cool and windy, and enjoys a number of day degrees comparable to Beaune. Make no mistake, however. The sunshine is more intense and the growing season is longer than in Burgundy, leading to more prominent fruit flavours even as the grape’s acidity is preserved. A gentle winemaking hand yields a sip full of pure crystalline citrus and apple fruit character, gracefully lifted up by the acid and a distinct silky texture. A heavy-handed approach mars this regional signature almost completely, yielding a wine that might score points with some reviewers but that shows little distinction by way of place.

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With family roots in the Rheingau, Koerner Rombauer, his wife Joan, and their two children arrived in the Napa Valley in 1972. They became partners in Conn Creek winery, learning the wine business there and then staking out on their own in 1982. Rombauer vineyards was a run-away success, serving as an initial home base for numerous other up and coming California wineries (e.g., Duckhorn, Spottswood) while Koerner and Joan also made their own wines. Rombauer Vineyards purchased its first Chardonnay from the Carneros region in 1990, from the Sangiacomo family. This partnership fit lock and key, with Carneros grapes and Rombauer’s winemaking providing a synergy that resulted in numerous accolades, including four appearances on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines” list. The Rombauers purchased their own vineyard in Carneros in 2002, the same year that Joan tragically died from pancreatic cancer. Today a third generation of Rombauers remains employed at the winery. Carneros Chardonnay remains one of their standard bearers, with Wine Spectator claiming that “Rombauer defines the California Chardonnay style that so many adore”. So a big boozy white, ripe with tropical fruit aromas, buttery and decadent? Hmmm. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: White Australia

19 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Sometimes your moneymaker becomes your millstone.  Australia, which had been making wine for a couple centuries without raising much of a global fuss about it, burst onto international liquor store shelf traffic jam within the past two or three decades thanks to a flamboyant, fruity, brash, ripe style of Shiraz, buttressed by a New World-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon that was easy on the pocketbook.  A mammoth export industry emerged, but typecasting of Australian wine as a whole inevitably followed, leaving those longstanding producers with histories older than the Dominion of Canada stuck in their own misleading shadow.

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Now the Shiraz spotlight has pulled back a bit, giving everyone a bit of room to breathe and again find comfort in the space of their own natural identities; for longstanding affiliates Pewsey Vale and Yalumba, this has meant a continued push to enhance the white side of Australia’s wine spectrum, and perhaps the sowing of a few carefully nurtured seeds which might ultimately settle the debate of what should be known as Australia’s signature white grape.  Two deserving contestants, from two benchmark wineries, lie below. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Umani Ronchi Vellodoro Pecorino

19 09 2011

When drinking on a budget, many people go for cheap wine.  Me, I opt for sheep wine.

Baa.

You are forgiven for thinking that Pecorino is only a sheep’s milk cheese, because I was convinced of the same thing until I was presented with an opportunity to buy this neon green, livestock-labelled bottle.  For the first and possibly last time in my life, the back label of a wine I owned proudly trumpeted that it was made from “the grape of the sheeps” (bad grammar not mine) — the word “Pecorino” comes from the Italian “pecora”, meaning “sheep”.  Apart from being delicious with crackers on an appetizer platter, Pecorino is also a little-known white grape indigenous to the central-eastern Italian wine region of Abruzzo.  It almost became extinct over the past few decades because it is a fairly low-yielding varietal that doesn’t lend itself to big money crops (and because wineries weren’t lining up down the block to plant sheep grapes), but large-scale producer Umani Ronchi recently began a crusade to revive it in an effort to keep regional grape varieties alive, leading up to the first vintage of this Pecorino in 2007.  Thanks to the palate-broadening encouragement of Brian at The Ferocious Grape (who was also behind my foray into Malvar a couple months ago), and because I liked the cute cartoon sheep on the label, it ended up in my glass. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Zestos Vinos de Madrid Blanco

20 07 2011

Malvar! You can't really see it in this picture, but the neck of the bottle says "Ole 'No Brainer' NB". Randomest neck foil ever?

Time to venture into the obscure!  Aside from being the first wine I’ve ever had out of an orange-tinted bottle, tonight’s vino is also the first wine I’ve ever had made from the Malvar grape.  Raise your hands if you’ve ever heard of “Malvar” before.  If your hand is currently resting on your lap, or if it’s up in the air but you’re lying through your teeth, you’re not alone:  even my most reference-y wine books had never heard of it.  The New Wine Lover’s Companion by Ron and Sharon Herbst is literally a dictionary of wine knowledge, but “Malvar” doesn’t show up in it.  Oz Clarke’s Grapes & Wines is a 300+ page book ONLY about the various different grape varietals, hundreds of them listed in alphabetical order, and “Malvar” is nowhere to be found.  In Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, which is a monolithic 800-page wine encyclopedia and probably the most famous wine reference book in the world, “Malvar” gets less than 30 words of attention:  “Malvar, white grape commonly grown around Madrid producing slightly rustic wines but with more body and personality than the ubiquitous Airen.”  Wow, thanks.  Basically, we’re on our own for this one. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Laughing Stock Chardonnay

11 07 2011

In case my constant compulsive pumping of Riesling didn’t already tell you this about me, I’m not much of a Chardonnay guy.  I’m not an active hater, but I can generally take it or leave it, and it’s definitely not where my eyes go on a white wine list.  I find most oak-aged Chardonnays to be a bit of a blunt instrument, tasering the taste buds into submission with a lumberyard of wood (often accompanied by crazy high alcohol) and overwhelming the sense of delicacy that I think the best white wines possess.  Conversely, I find most unoaked Chardonnays to be, well, extraordinarily boring:  Chardonnay is a fairly neutral grape by itself, without any intense flavours, and with no oak providing backup vocals it can lack the layer of intrigue that it sorely needs.  Of course, this dreary portrait doesn’t apply to all Chards out there (Burgundy fans, put down your pitchforks — I can’t afford your wines anyway), but it covers more of them than it should.

Great bottle, great marketing, great wine.

But leave it to my (now official) favourite Canadian producer to walk that difficult middle ground between extreme oakiness and mind-numbing neutrality.  Coming off the extremely strong showing of their signature red blend Portfolio back in May, the Okanagan’s Laughing Stock Vineyards kept the PnP love fest going with their 2009 Chardonnay, which struck a perfect balance.  The LS label info alone gave me high hopes, for two reasons.  First, the alcohol level was only 13.2%, not a percent and a half higher like some New World Chardonnays; since all the alcohol in wine comes from the sugars in ripe grapes, this non-astronomical alcohol level means that the grapes weren’t crazily overripe when they were fermented, which in turn means that the resulting wine likely won’t be overly full and will likely retain some much-needed acidity.  Second, instead of being aged in small oak barrels for a long period of time (usually a year or more), the LS Chardonnay was actually fermented in oak and then aged in larger oak barrels called puncheons (the bigger the barrel, the less surface area contact with the wine and the less flavour imparted) for only 5 months.  As compared to strictly aging in oak, barrel fermentation generally results in more controlled, better integrated and softer oak flavours being imparted into the wine, all good things for someone easing their way into oaky whites.  This is why more information on wine labels is always better than less! Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Jorge Ordonez Botani Moscatel Seco

6 07 2011

Summer is finally, briefly here -- I have just the wine.

It’s wines like this that make a good local wine shop (or a friendly neighbourhood blog) so important.  Apart from an atypically stylish label, this wine has nothing going for it that would normally make you pick it up off the shelf:  it’s not bargain-basement cheap (usual retail is $25ish), it comes from a completely obscure region (Sierras de Malaga) in a country (Spain) that is not at all known for its white wines, and it’s made from a grape (Moscatel Seco, otherwise known as dry Muscat) that doesn’t exactly have Chardonnay-esque market appeal.  Why have a $25 Muscat from southern Spain when you can stick to Wolf Blass and Kim Crawford and avoid risking that kind of cash on the unknown?  Because it’s freaking awesome, that’s why.  Thanks to a good wine store initially talking me into taking the plunge, I’ve now tracked down Botani in three successive new vintages, possibly the longest streak in my brief wine-collecting career, and if I can encourage some of you to be similarly adventurous then this blog will be worth its while. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2004 Rabl Kaferberg Gruner Veltliner

14 06 2011

Before we get to tonight’s wine, I should pass on that today was a red-letter day for PnP, as we got some unsolicited (but very welcome) press from one of Calgary’s top local websites, calgaryisawesome.com.  Check out the article here — it’s truly exciting to be mentioned alongside some pretty damn talented Calgarians.  Calgary Is Awesome is awesome!

Possibly the tallest bottle of wine I've ever seen. It didn't even fit in the frame!

Now, raise your hands if you’ve ever had an aged Gruner Veltliner.  If you haven’t, I’m now telling you that you owe it to yourself to try.  Gruner, as discussed in more detail in this prior post, is Austria’s signature grape, a white with a unique flavour profile that is now receiving much more mainstream attention, and for good reason.  Like many other older wines I’ve purchased recently, I got this 2004 Rabl from Aspen Wine & Spirits, which routinely puts back-vintage wine (obtained in a fire-sale purchase of the inventory of a now-defunct Calgary boutique shop awhile back) out for sale at fantastic prices.  This bottle, from a strong, well-known producer, hasn’t been on the market for 5+ years (the current vintage of this Gruner is the 2009), but was on the shelf for $22.  Crazy.  I don’t go to Aspen W&S a lot, but when I do, it’s to hunt out backdated bargains like this. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2006 Brundlmayer Langenloiser Berg-Vogelsang Gruner Veltliner

11 04 2011

GruVee name, groovy wine.

Time for a departure here on PnP:  a white wine that isn’t a Riesling.  Don’t adjust your set, because we haven’t gone that far afield from Germany, Riesling’s ancestral home; we’ve just moved slightly southeast into Austria to look at a prime example of that country’s national grape, Gruner Veltliner.  If you’ve never heard of this varietal before, take note:  not only does it have the coolest grape name in the entire world (“Gruner Veltliner” sounds like a luxury airline) with the best nickname (GruVee — no, I didn’t make that up), but it also has a wild and wacky flavour profile that will leave you (and tonight left me) scrambling for adjectives trying to define it.  It makes tremendously interesting and unique wine that isn’t as delicate as some whites and that drinks well alone or with food, and it’s my suggestion if you’re looking to colour a little out of the lines of the Cabernet/Chardonnay book.  Since Austria isn’t as well-established a wine region as France, Italy, Spain, etc., you can find some great, complex Gruners at excellent prices, like this one, a single-vineyard GV from arguably the best producer of the grape in the country, which I got at Highlander in Marda Loop for under $30. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Kung Fu Girl Riesling

5 04 2011

Don't judge a book by its annoying gimmicky cover.

Since I went higher-end last time and reviewed a wine that was likely too expensive, too uncommon and too mediocre for anyone reading this to ever try it, I thought tonight I would go with a wine that you can find EVERYWHERE and that comes in at under $20 CDN:  the Kung Fu Girl Riesling by Charles Smith Wines in Washington State.  You’ve probably seen the black and white labels of Charles Smith’s line of value wines, which also include the Velvet Devil Merlot and Boom Boom Syrah, in almost every liquor store you’ve been in over the past few years; I got this one at Superstore Liquorstore for $17.  Smith is an icon on the Washington wine scene, partly due to his bizarre background (he was a rock band manager before becoming a winery owner, and still has the hair to prove it), partly because he’s a natural born marketer, and partly because he’s becoming increasingly adept at combining solid quality with value price in a bottle of wine.  He has a few Serious Wine labels like his K Vintners production line, which focuses on pricy and top-quality Syrah from some of the best vineyards in the State, but his main focus seems to be on his more budget-conscious lines.  This Riesling is actually a single-vineyard bottling (quite surprising at this price — usually cheap wines are blends from multiple vineyards), from the Evergreen Vineyard due west of Spokane in eastern Washington. Read the rest of this entry »








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